An Interview with Laura Hillman, and Commentary
by Casey Luskin
As the debate over intelligent design and Darwinian evolution has become increasingly publicized, some have unfortunately resorted to rhetoric which stirs hateful passions rather than seeking to cooperatively solve problems by focusing on evidence. This tactic has come in the form of broad attacks, such as December, 2004 PandasThumb threads discussing whether or not skeptics of Darwinian evolution (most specifically, the tactics they use) should be compared to “Holocaust deniers” (pandasthumb.org/pt-archives/000639.html, pandasthumb.org/pt-archives/00632.html). It has also manifested as specified attacks, such as when one ID proponent was recently called "dishonest" and specifically likened to a “Holocaust denier” on stage by a lawyer from the ACLU on a Legal Education panel for lawyers. (See also a 1/5/05 news article where a different ACLU lawyer makes the same comparison of teaching ID to teaching the Holocaust did not happen.) Two more distant examples include a comparison made by Michael Shermer, in Scientific American in February, 2002 (“The Gradual Illumination of the Mind” and a 2003 article by Eugenie Scott and Glenn Branch of the NCSE in TREE (“Evolution: What’s wrong with 'teaching the controversy,'” 18(10):499-502, Oct 2003) where they each attempt to legitimize comparisons between creationists and Holocaust deniers. Finally, Wired Magazine even published a comment by Lawrence Krauss making comparisons of being skeptical of evolution to denying the Holocaust in its October 2004 editorial about intelligent design.
Though each of these examples may not have specifically intended to imply that ID proponents are racists or evil, and some of them simply compared teaching evidence against evolution to teaching that the Holocaust never happened, it is not the nature or qualifications in the comparisons that matter, but the fact that any comparison was made in the very first place. Any form of comparison between what skeptics of evolution believe, do, advocate, or are and the specific actions, nature, goals, and beliefs of such a culturally dangerous (and widely hated) group as Holocaust deniers is inappropriate and bad for this debate. Those who don't like what skeptics of evolution are doing should find a different object of comparison--one which does not liken skeptics of evolution in any way to a group like Holocaust deniers. The Holocaust should be considered too personal and horrifying an issue to be dragged into this debate.
Ed Brayton has done a very good job of documenting how unfortunately some ID proponents have also invoked the comparisons to Nazis in their discussions in an inappropriate manner. I happily provide this link to his blog where he has documented that some ID proponents have also unfortunately brought the Holocaust and Nazism into this debate. (See also this page where Ed kindly retracts his accusations towards me.) I would also like to thank him for joining with me in calling for people on all sides of this debate to universally stop invoking the Holocaust in this debate. Also, it was brought to my attention that creation scientist Jonathan Sarfati recently used Holocaust imagery in an article. While Sarfati's article mostly discusses the historical fact of Nazi reliance upon some of Darwin's ideas, he does seem to unfortunately imply that the Nazi Holocaust might be repeated if evolution is taught in schools.
The Holocaust is perhaps the most evil event to take place in human history. It is the massive attempt to exterminate an entire ethnic group, the Jews. History also records that many non-Jews, including Christians, gypsies, homosexuals, and just about anyone caught opposing Hitler’s regime also faced death in the concentration camps. The Holocaust thus represents not just a horrific example of attempted genocide, but also an attempt to stifle freedom of thought through brutality. This holiday season provides an occasion for all of us in this debate to reflect upon difficult lessons learned from history and recognize that this is an event which should not be tossed around lightly in this debate.
One of our goals at the IDEA Center is to make people "aware" of issues in this debate. To help promote awareness about the importance of the Holocaust and how it should be not be treated lightly, the IDEA Center offers this interview with a distinguished guest, a Holocaust Survivor and long-time friend of Casey Luskin, Ms. Laura Hillman.
An Interview with Holocaust survivor Laura Hillman:
To reiterate, Ms. Hillman is the forthcoming author of I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree to be released by Simon & Schuster in April, 2005. Before this interview, Ms. Hillman was told exactly why we were interested in posting her conversation, and she was also told about the nature of the scientific viewpoints of those in this debate, and also about the context in which the comparisons to "Holocaust deniers" have been made. She had the opportunity to read this entire page before it was posted on the IDEA Center website and approves of the use of her interview for the purpose of promoting awareness about the reality of the Holocaust and encouraging people not to treat this issue lightly.
The IDEA Center would like to acknowledge that posting of Ms. Hillman's interview is in no way intended to imply that she endorses (or does not endorse) intelligent design theory or the activities of the IDEA Center in general. In fact, this article has nothing to do with the validity of intelligent design theory, and our only hope in posting this article is that it will encourage people on all sides of this debate to "keep hate out of the debate" and focus on friendly, good-natured discussions of evidence.
Some Afterthoughts and Methodological Considerations
Some of my fellow IDEA Center staff members advised that no response on this matter was necessary because reasonable people would see comparisons between skeptics of Darwinian evolution and Holocaust deniers as completely inappropriate. We chose to post this article because we see such accusations as a dangerous corner which has been turned in this debate—-not only because it mires the debate in more hateful comparisons which distract from discussions of the evidence, but also because it denigrates important lessons all humanity has learned from the most horrifying event in the human history.
As an eyewitness to the Holocaust, Ms. Hillman herself is proof that there is no evidentiary substitute for those who have personally witnessed a historical event. The claim that all life is the result of blind, purposeless natural processes is also a claim about history. But no human being was alive to witness such events, and thus we must rely upon circumstantial evidence to interpret such events. There are many reasonable interpretations for the data from the scientific record of the past, one of which is that blind, purposeless processes (such as Darwinian evolution) are not largely responsible for the origin and development of all life. Meyer and Hartwig explain this point clearly in their teacher’s note at the end of the pro-intelligent-design textbook Of Pandas and People:
The problem with this kind of historical detective work, however, is that it seldom produces a conclusion that forecloses other alternatives. As philosopher of biology Elliot Sober points out, there may be any number of plausible explanations—or "past histories"—that can account for the same evidence. Sober’s observation recalls the insightful warning of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes: “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing,” said Holmes. "It may seem to point very straight to one thing but if you shift your point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something different."
[O]nly in the most trivial sense—change over time—can evolution be considered a fact. Far from being a legitimate reason for avoiding alternative views, the alleged “fact of evolution” underscores precisely why a book like Pandas is so necessary. If students are to achieve true scientific literacy, they must learn to distinguish fact from supposition. A curriculum that blurs this distinction serves neither the students nor society”
(A Note to Teachers, Of Pandas and People, 2nd ed. pg. 155, 157).
Bringing the Holocaust into this debate is not only methodologically inappropriate, it is morally wrong, ugly, and dangerous to the debate as a whole. We post this article to help people understand not just the nature of historical evidence, but how the importance of the Holocaust mandates that it not be treated lightly nor used to further increase hate. For those who revere the painful lessons of history and honor those whose lives, families, and entire people-groups were nearly or completely lost in the Holocaust, we plea to those on all sides of this debate that the Holocaust should not be hijacked to for the purpose of leveling hateful comparisons against the other side.
The tragic story of the Holocaust is the inflammation of deeply-rooted human fears against cultural scapegoats until even the educated citizenry were capable of supporting genocidal madness. Today, our educated citizenry fears those who continue to instill hatred because of ignorance. To all of us, the “Holocaust denier” represents the culmination of how ignorance and hate can threaten progress and peace in our civilization. Those who lightly toss about the term “Holocaust denier” appear to inflame a similar unjust hatred against a modern-day scapegoat for intellectuals: skeptics of Darwinian evolution. It is imperative that we all remember the lesson of the Holocaust, and do not exploit the very teacher itself to inflame same sort of discriminatory hate it testifies against from the pages of very recent history.
Hopefully most Darwinists and most ID-proponents alike can agree that it is inappropriate to drag the Holocaust, and insults like “Holocaust denier” into this debate. For those willing, perhaps over agreement upon this one matter, a holiday truce among Darwinists and ID-proponents is indeed possible.
Addendum (added 1/6/05)
There is very little that needs to be said in response how some people on the internet are responding to this article. The fact that some people are actually defending the tactic of making comparisons to Holocaust deniers completely speaks for itself, and so little response is necessary. Additionally, I applaud those from all sides who have joined in this truce to agree that such comparisons do not belong in this debate.
Some have blown my claims out of proportion when my simple claim is merely this: it's inappropriate to use comparisons to Holocaust deniers no matter what the issue or the facts are. Like Laura Hillman said "It’s a bad analogy. Definitely a bad analogy." Regardless of one's viewpoint, if one wants to make a comparison to make a point, find a different one than comparisons to Holocaust deniers. Apparently the Anti-Defamation League would probably agree with me that it is inappropriate to use comparisons to Holocaust deniers in political debates, as ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman wrote:
Addendum (added 2/1/05):
Ed Brayton has done a very good job of documenting how unfortunately some ID proponents have also invoked the comparisons to Nazis in their discussions in an inappropriate manner. I happily provide this link to his blog where he has documented that some ID proponents have also unfortunately brought the Holocaust and Nazism into this debate. (See also this page where Ed kindly retracts his accusations towards me.) I would also like to thank him for joining with me in calling for people on all sides of this debate to universally stop invoking the Holocaust in this debate.
Addendum (added 9/3/05):
In a recent editorial in the Guardian, Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins have invoked the "Holocaust denier" comparison to those who advocate intelligent design: